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Papering over the cracks

Xavier won against Western Carolina, but they weren’t very good in doing it.

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at Xavier
Thank God for defense
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

What were your concerns after the Wake Forest game? Was it that Xavier played a game that did nothing to advance its resume for an at large bid? Perhaps your biggest worry was that the offense looks like it can’t get going against even the most token of defensive pressure. Were you worried that the bench is two players deep and shows no signs of getting longer? Whatever it was, with the exception of if you were still inexplicably hung up on Quentin Goodin, this game will have done little to make you feel better.

[Massive caveat here: Naji Marshall was sick and didn’t play. Whatever weight you want to lend that is on you, but it certainly made a difference.]

Xavier trailed Western Carolina after 30 minutes. Xavier, a team that came into the season wanting to contend for the Big East and nationally ranked, trailed Western Carolina, a team that finished next to last in the Southern Conference last year. The Musketeers could get nothing going on offense and were allowing the Catamounts 1.14 points per possession across their first 48 possessions. From that point on, Xavier buried the game on a 25-6 run and finally looked like the team that should have been playing the entire game.

Much like losing at Wake Forest, this game did precious little for the Musketeers in terms of an at-large bid. Wake was a Q2 loss, Western Carolina a Q3 win. Assuming they end the year like that, neither will have much of an impact on the team when it comes to Selection Sunday. Q2 losses aren’t that bad, Q3 wins aren’t that good. They both simply are. This was another chance for X to get right before heading into a tough stretch of games. In neither case will the committee care who didn’t play for either team.

In terms of not playing, Naji Marshall missing hurt Xavier simply because of his absence, but also because it further exposed how thin this team is right now. Bryce Moore started and struggled to shoot the ball but passed and rebounded it well. With him missing the bench accounted for 31 minutes, 16 of which came from freshman stalwart Zach Freemantle. Freemantle may have been the least heralded of the incoming freshman, but he chipped in 13/2/0 (with only one foul), while the rest of the bench accounted for 0/3/0 on 0-5 from the floor. KyKy Tandy got ten minutes and did essentially nothing with them, accruing a zero offensive rating. Dahmir Bishop played three minutes, Dontarius James played two. Neither had an impact. Xavier is seven guys deep right now and showing no signs of getting help any time soon.

The bench’s inability to score served to exacerbate the problems that Xavier’s starters not named Quentin Goodin were having in getting the ball in the bucket. The 1.04 points per possession that Xavier managed in the game were identical to the number they posted against Wake. Xavier posted a 25.4% turnover rate, thanks in large part to an off night from Paul Scruggs, against a team that really doesn’t force turnovers. The Musketeers only converted 50% of their attempts from inside the arc as well. In short, the offense was bad again.

All of that to say that if you were prepared to push the panic button after the loss to Wake there is nothing that happened tonight that should change your mind. The end result was different because the opponent was different, not because the effort was. There was one other note from the game as well.

Quentin Goodin was unstoppable. Xavier’s strangely much maligned point guard tore WCU apart like he knew he was a Big East four year starter and they were some dudes from the SoCon. Goodin shot 5-7 inside the arc, 4-4 behind it and finished with 25/1/3 in 37 minutes of play. Since Goodin’s nadir in the UConn win he is shooting .446/.458/.733 and averaging 12/4.1/3.8. Despite that, he remains a lightning rod for the team’s struggles. Against WCU, he answered every possible charge against him with his best performance as a Musketeer. The rest of his teammates could not say the same.